This week (September 24-30) marks the beginning of Banned Books Week! During this week, libraries, teachers, and bookstores all around the country encourage you to use your First Amendment rights and read banned and challenged books.
Why do we celebrate Banned Books Week?
Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 by librarian activist, Judith Krug. Krug, in partnership with the American Library Association, wanted to draw attention to the issue of censorship after the group Moral Majority, led by televangelist Jerry Falwell, began challenging books in public and school libraries. Censorship incidents jumped from 300 in 1980 to nearly 1,000 in 1982. Banned Books Week was founded as a response to this quest for censorship and has been quite successful. In 2016, 323 challenges were reported to the American Library Association.
Challenges do not always equal a ban. A challenge is the attempt to remove a book from an institution (i.e. schools and libraries), while a ban is the actual removal of that title. This distinction is important to consider. Challenging a book may, in fact, lead to an open discussion about that book’s themes and engage a community. However, if a challenge leads to a ban (it is the first step of a ban, after all), that discussion is cut off.
An argument may be presented that “banning” a book from a library doesn’t totally restrict access to that book. After all, Amazon exists, as well as a host of other retailers. But that’s the problem. Banning a book from a library restricts the FREE access of that book. Libraries exist to serve the entire community, including those who need free access to information. Judith Krug illustrated this point in 2002:
“Some users find materials in their local library collection to be untrue, offensive, harmful or even dangerous. But libraries serve the information needs of all of the people in the community—not just the loudest, not just the most powerful, not even just the majority. Libraries serve everyone.”
It is precisely because libraries serve everyone that one group cannot be allowed to decide what is offensive to everyone. Literature is an art form, and as such, it is subjective. It is our job as librarians to ensure that every member of our community has equal access to that art. As the old saying goes: “A truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone.”
How do I celebrate Banned Books Week?
By reading a banned book, of course! Many books have been banned over the course of history, including classics like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Call of the Wild, and Beloved. You can find a full list of banned books that helped shape America here.
As discussed above, before books are banned, they are first challenged. The top ten challenged books of 2016 are listed below. Titles with links will take you directly to our catalog, where you can see if the book is available or place a hold!
- This One Summer written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
Reasons: challenged because it includes LGBT characters, drug use and profanity, and it was considered sexually explicit with mature themes
- Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
Reasons: challenged because it includes LGBT characters, was deemed sexually explicit, and was considered to have an offensive political viewpoint
- George written by Alex Gino
Reasons: challenged because it includes a transgender child, and the “sexuality was not appropriate at elementary levels”
- I Am Jazz written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
Reasons: challenged because it portrays a transgender child and because of language, sex education, and offensive viewpoints
- Two Boys Kissing written by David Levithan
Reasons: challenged because its cover has an image of two boys kissing, and it was considered to include sexually explicit LGBT content
- Looking for Alaska written by John Green
Reasons: challenged for a sexually explicit scene that may lead a student to “sexual experimentation”
- Big Hard Sex Criminals written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Chip Zdarsky
Reason: challenged because it was considered sexually explicit
- Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread written by Chuck Palahniuk
Reasons: challenged for profanity, sexual explicitness, and being “disgusting and all around offensive”
- Little Bill (series) written by Bill Cosby and and illustrated by Varnette P. Honeywood
Reason: challenged because of criminal sexual allegations against the author
- Eleanor & Park written by Rainbow Rowell
Reason: challenged for offensive language
Go forth and celebrate your First Amendment rights!
You may want to read many of the banned/challenged books in these lists, or none at all. Celebrating Banned Books Week is as much about reading what you desire as it is about not infringing on the rights of others to do the same.
Let us know what banned or challenged book you’re reading in the comments below!
A. (2017, April). The State of America’s Libraries 2017. Retrieved September 19, 2017, from http://www.ala.org/news/sites/ala.org.news/files/content/State-of-Americas-Libraries-Report-2017.pdf
About. (n.d.). Retrieved September 19, 2017, from http://www.bannedbooksweek.org/about
Crum, M. (2015, September 28). This Is Why You Should Celebrate Banned Books Week. Retrieved September 19, 2017, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/celebrate-banned-books-week_us_56096a1ae4b0768126fe4cca
Jerry Falwell, Judith Krug, and the Origins of ‘Banned Books Week’. (2015, October 02). Retrieved September 19, 2017, from https://longreads.com/2015/10/02/jerry-falwell-judith-krug-and-the-origins-of-banned-books-week/